Down and depressed after being diagnosed with cancer last year, UNLV goalie Ryan Harding adjusted his attitude after encountering a little girl in the hospital facing the same plight.
“I was ‘Why me?’ for a while, but after my first doctor’s appointment, I saw a little girl walking around with tubes in her shaved head and I thought, ‘I’ve had a great life,’” he said. “After that, I said I shouldn’t complain.
“This thing is bad, but there’s always somebody who has it worse than me, so I tried to be positive.”
A little more than a year after he was diagnosed with Stage Two Hodgkin’s Lymphoma — which forced him to sit out last season as a medical redshirt — an emotional Harding returned to action for the Rebels on Sept. 20, starting in net in a 2-1 loss to Cal State Northridge.
“I have to admit I was crying before the game,” Harding said. “It was just so much I went through last year, from the first day I found out about everything.
“There was no way I would’ve thought I’d be back where I was a year later.”
Harding’s parents told their only child his neck looked swollen after a workout in his native Oregon, and shortly thereafter doctors at UNLV discovered a lump in his neck and referred him to a specialist, who gave him the bad news on Aug. 1, 2012.
“It’s something you don’t want to happen to your worst enemy,” Harding, 21, said. “I was shocked. I (was) a 20-year-old kid, I don’t think anything bad can happen to me.”
UNLV coach Rich Ryerson also was stunned.
“It’s shocking when you have a 20-year-old guy who is fit as a fiddle, strong as can be and in the prime of his life and you get that kind of news,” he said. “He does everything right. But we had no doubt he was going to be able to overcome it and be back on the field.
“It was so emotional when he started the other day. We kept his (uniform) No. 1 he had worn, and he came back in and wore it.”
The happy-go-lucky Harding, who sports scars on his chest and neck — where he had tumors removed — was encouraged when doctors told him his disease had an 85 percent cure rate.
He underwent eight rounds of chemotherapy and 23 radiation treatments.
“It’s the worst thing ever,” he said of chemotherapy. “Having the flu and strep throat is bad, but this is 100 times worse. It just feels like you’re extremely weak. You lose all your energy and don’t want to eat.”
Harding returned to school two days after his final radiation treatment and has since lost nearly all of the 30 pounds he gained as a side effect from the drug prednisone.
He didn’t work out during his treatments and only began running in July.
“I know everybody hates running, but for once it felt really good to be running,” he said.
A redshirt junior, Harding puts his fitness level at 85 percent.
“Fitness, for him, is still a critical aspect of getting him back fully,” Ryerson said. “His athleticism is pretty special. He has very quick reflexes and can get to a lot of balls people don’t normally get to.”
Harding said soccer inspired him in his battle with cancer, which he is treating as a blessing.
“I appreciate everything more. I didn’t take anything seriously (before),” he said. “I still like to have fun, laugh at everything and enjoy things, but I know when business comes around, I need to have my business attire on and be ready.”
Harding has lost his first three starts, including a 1-0 overtime loss to Sacramento State on Saturday in which the Rebels (2-6) had a 26-7 edge in shots. UNLV hosts Cal State Bakersfield at 1 p.m. Sunday in its Western Athletic Conference opener.
■ NOTE — The No. 22 UNLV men’s golf team fired a 24-over 888 to finish fourth Saturday at the William H. Tucker Intercollegiate in Albuquerque, N.M., 25 strokes behind winner New Mexico (1-under 863). Rebels sophomore Zane Thomas tied for fourth, at 1-over 217.
Contact reporter Todd Dewey at email@example.com or 702-383-0354. Follow him on Twitter: @tdewey33.